As it happened: Biden says Afghan withdrawal ‘chaos’ unavoidable as panicked evacuations continue

Evacuees board an Australian military flight out of Kabul airport on August 18, 2021.
Evacuees board an Australian military flight out of Kabul airport on August 18, 2021. © SGT Glen McCarthy / Département de la Défense australien / AFP

President Joe Biden said he could see no way for NATO to leave Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing”, while vowing to keep US troops in the country until all Americans are evacuated. Earlier Wednesday, witnesses said armed Taliban militants kept people desperate to flee from reaching Kabul’s airport. Read our live updates to see how all the day's events unfolded. 



•   First Spanish evacuation flight from Kabul lands near Madrid

A plane carrying “just over 50 people”, both Spaniards and Afghans, landed early Thursday morning at the military base of Torrejón de Ardoz, northeast of Madrid, the Spanish government said. It was the first Spanish flight to arrive from Kabul since the Taliban took over on Sunday.

•   US aviation authorities say civilian carriers could operate Kabul evacuation flights

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said late Wednesday that domestic air carriers and civilian pilots can fly into Kabul to conduct evacuation or relief flights with prior approval from the US Defense Department.

All relief flights into Kabul “must have permission” from the Defense Department, the FAA said in a statement, as US passenger and air carriers are generally prohibited from flying over nearly all of Afghanistan. The FAA cited “a lack of high altitude air traffic control services.”

There is no indication yet the military will seek to use US carriers as part of the massive planned evacuation effort of thousands of people.

A White House official told reporters late Wednesday the US mlilitary in the last day evacuated approximately 1,800 individuals on 10 C-17s. Since August 14, the United States have evacuated nearly 6,000 people.

•   UN starts moving some staff out of Afghanistan

The United Nations has begun moving some staff out of Afghanistan, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Wednesday, as foreign nationals scramble to leave the country after the Taliban’s return to power.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the world body was relocating about 100 employees to Almaty in Kazakhstan.

“This is a temporary measure intended to enable the UN to keep delivering assistance to the people of Afghanistan with the minimum of disruption while, at the same time, reducing risk to UN personnel,” he said.

•   US sees shared goals with Russia, China on Afghanistan

The United States said Wednesday it shared the same goals on Afghanistan as frequent adversaries China and Russia, which have quickly moved to work with the triumphant Taliban.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman pointed to a statement issued Monday by the UN Security Council, where China and Russia wield veto power, that called for an inclusive new government.

The statement “speaks to the fact that we are all in the same place, which is calling on the Taliban to ensure justice and equal rights and inclusion, for there to be no violence, for people to be able to leave when they can,” Sherman told reporters.

“So I think right now there’s very strong unanimity,” said Sherman, who last month became the most high-ranking member of the Biden administration to travel to China.

•   US troops could stay beyond Aug. 31 to evacuate Americans, Biden says

US troops may stay in Afghanistan past an August 31 deadline to evacuate Americans, President Joe Biden said on Wednesday, and the Pentagon said the U.S. military does not currently have the ability to reach people beyond the Kabul airport.

“If there’s American citizens left, we’re going to stay until we get them all out,” Biden told ABC News. The previous day, a wide range of US lawmakers pressed him to extend the deadline that he had set for a final withdrawal.

•   Biden: impossible to avoid ‘chaos’ of withdrawal

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he does not believe it would have been possible to extract US troops from Afghanistan without the type of “chaos” that has been evident in recent days.

Asked in an interview with ABC News if the withdrawal could have been handled better, Biden said: “No ... The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens.”

•   IMF denies Afghanistan access to resources due to ‘lack of clarity’ over recognition of Taliban government

The International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that Afghanistan will not be able to access IMF resources, including a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) reserves, due to a lack of clarity over the recognition of its government after the Taliban seized control of Kabul.

"As is always the case, the IMF is guided by the views of the international community," an IMF spokesperson said in a statement. "There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access SDRs or other IMF resources.”

The IMF is set to distribute $650 billion in SDRs on August 23 to all eligible members.  Afghanistan's share was valued at about $340 million, the country’s central bank chief Ajmal Ahmady said earlier Wednesday.

The Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) had around $9 billion in reserves, but most of that is held in banks overseas, out of reach of the Taliban, Ahmady said on Twitter.

"As per international standards, most assets are held in safe, liquid assets such as Treasuries and gold," said Ahmady, who fled the country on Sunday, fearing for his safety as the Taliban swept into the capital.

•   Second French evacuation flight from Kabul lands in Paris

The first Afghans to be flown out of Kabul by France after the Taliban’s seizure of power have arrived at Paris’s Charles-de-Gaulle airport on Wednesday.

An air force plane carrying more than 200 passengers, with 25 French citizens and a majority of Afghans including a large number of women and children, landed shortly before 1700 GMT.

It was the second French evacuation flight to land in Paris in an operation that could last several more days. A first flight on Monday carried mainly French citizens.

France’s Office of Immigration and Integration (OFII) and the association Terre d’Asile will provide care for the flight’s Afghan passengers, but both declined to provide details of their accommodation.

"We are in the process of building their reception facilities as a matter of urgency and necessity," OFII chief Didier Leschi told AFP.

•   Turkey’s President Erdogan says he is open to cooperation with the Taliban

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he was open to cooperation with the Islamist Taliban in a television interview on Wednesday, and welcomed what he said had been their moderate statements so far.

Erdogan also said that Turkey still aims to maintain security at Kabul airport, three days after Taliban fighters took control of Afghanistan's capital.

NATO member Turkey, which has hundreds of troops in Afghanistan, had been discussing with the United States a proposal to keep those forces in the country to guard and run the airport after the withdrawal of other NATO forces.

Turkish sources told Reuters this week that those original plans were dropped because of the chaos in Kabul, but that Turkey would still offer the Taliban security and technical assistance at the airport.

•   Ghani says he left Kabul to prevent bloodshed, did not take money

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani released a video message on Wednesday from the United Arab Emirates, which earlier confirmed it was hosting him "on humanitarian grounds". 

Ghani said he would address "recent developments" in Afghanistan before beginning his message, which was streamed on his Facebook page. He fled the country at the weekend as the Taliban approached Kabul.

The president said he is "in consultation with others until I will return so that I can continue my efforts for justice for Afghans".

Ghani also said that he had left Kabul to prevent bloodshed, and denied reports he took large sums of money with him as he departed the presidential palace.

•   NATO foreign ministers to hold emergency meeting on Afghanistan 

NATO foreign ministers will hold an emergency videoconference on Friday to discuss the unfolding situation in Afghanistan and what steps they can take, the alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

"I have convened an extraordinary virtual meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers this Friday 20 August to continue our close coordination & discuss our common approach on Afghanistan," he tweeted on Wednesday.

The session follows an extraordinary meeting of NATO envoys on Tuesday after which Stoltenberg admitted the alliance had been caught by surprise by the Taliban's swift takeover of Afghanistan.

He blamed Afghan leaders for the rout, saying they "failed to stand up" to the Taliban, and stressed his priority now was to evacuate NATO's remaining 800 civilian personnel in Kabul and its Afghan employees.

Stoltenberg reiterated that all NATO countries had backed the US decision to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, which meant all allied soldiers that had been deployed were leaving too.  

•   United Arab Emirates hosting Afghan President Ghani after flight from Kabul

The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that it is hosting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani "on humanitarian grounds" after he fled his country amid the Taliban's takeover.

"The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation can confirm that the UAE has welcomed President Ashraf Ghani and his family into the country on humanitarian grounds," it said in a brief statement.

Ghani fled Afghanistan on Sunday as the Taliban reached Kabul, saying he was doing so to avoid bloodshed. 

•   France evacuating its citizens, Afghans ‘in need of protection’ 

The French military is taking people out of Kabul on military planes to Abu Dhabi, from where they are to be flown on passenger aircraft to Paris. A first contingent of 41 French and foreign nationals arrived in France on Tuesday.

"Nearly 200 Afghans who worked for France or who are under threat have just been evacuated from Kabul, as well as French and foreign nationals," President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet, adding that the operations would continue.

The French foreign ministry said 216 people were on board the flight, including 25 French, 184 Afghans "from civil society in need of protection" as well as seven other foreign nationals.

It said that this operation meant that most people, both of French and Afghan nationality, who had taken refuge at the French embassy in Kabul, had now been evacuated. The French embassy is now working out of the airport.

•   Taliban use violence to disperse protest in Jalalabad, health official says

At least one person was killed and six were wounded when the Taliban violently dispersed a protest in the eastern city of Jalalabad, an Afghan health official said. 

Dozens of people had gathered in Jalalabad to raise the national flag a day before Afghanistan's Independence Day, which commemorates the end of British rule in 1919. They lowered the Taliban flag – a white banner with an Islamic inscription – that the militants have raised in the areas they captured.

Video footage later showed the Taliban firing into the air and attacking people with batons to disperse the crowd. Babrak Amirzada, a reporter for a local news agency, said he and a TV cameraman from another agency were beaten by the Taliban as they tried to cover the unrest.

The health official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

•   Stampede at Kabul airport gate injures 17 

A stampede at a gate to the Kabul airport on Wednesday injured 17 people, according to a NATO security official.

The official, who declined to be identified, said he had not heard any reports of violence by Taliban fighters outside the airport.

Afghan civilians seeking to leave after the Taliban seized the capital on Sunday had been told not to gather around the airport unless they had a passport and visa to travel, said the official, who was working at the airport.

•   Statue of Hazara anti-Taliban hero blown up in Bamiyan, say residents

A statue of Abdul Ali Mazari, a prominent Hazara resistance hero and anti-Taliban fighter was decapitated in Bamiyan city in central Afghanistan, residents said Wednesday.

"We are not sure who has blown up the statue (of Abdul Ali Mazari), but there are different groups of Taliban present here, including some ... who are known for their brutality," a resident told AFP, asking not to be named.

Mazari was killed by the Taliban in 1995 when the Hazara leader, along with a group of community elders, were called in for a meeting with a senior Taliban commander. His mutilated body was found a day later.

•   Britain evacuates more than 2,000 people

Britain has evacuated more than 2,000 Afghans since the Taliban takeover, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told lawmakers on Wednesday, as parliament was recalled to discuss the crisis.

"We have so far secured the safe return of 306 UK nationals and 2,052 Afghan nationals as part of our resettlement programme," he said, adding that 2,000 more Afghan applications were complete, and "many more" being processed.

•   Germany to send 600 troops to aid evacuation

Germany will send up to 600 army personnel to Kabul to help evacuate German citizens and former Afghan local embassy staff.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet on Wednesday approved the mission which started Monday. Germany’s Bundestag Parliament will have to vote on the military mission as well which is likely going to happen next week.

Every armed foreign deployment of the German army has to be approved by parliament in Germany.

Normally this has to happen before the start of the deployment but in this case, because of the imminent danger German citizens were exposed to in Afghanistan, Cabinet and parliament were also allowed to approve the mission in retrospect, German news agency dpa reported.

•   Senior Haqqani Network leader meets Karzai

A Taliban commander and senior leader of the Haqqani Network militant group, Anas Haqqani, met former Afghan president Hamid Karzai for talks, a Taliban official said on Wednesday, amid efforts by the Taliban to set up a government.

Karzai was accompanied by the old government's main peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, in the meeting, said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified. He gave no more details.

The Haqqani Network, an important faction of the Taliban, was based on the border with Pakistan, was accused over recent years of some of the most deadly militant attacks in Afghanistan.

•   US evacuates around 3,200 people

The White House on Tuesday said around 3,200 people had been evacuated by the US military so far, including US citizens, permanent residents and their families on 13 flights.

But White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Tuesday acknowledged reports that some civilians were encountering resistance – “being turned away or pushed back or even beaten” – as they tried to reach the Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Sullivan however maintained that “very large numbers” were reaching the airport and the problem of the others was being taken up with the Taliban following Monday’s chaotic scenes of Afghans desperately trying to flee the Taliban takeover.

The US wants to complete evacuations before its August 31 withdrawal deadline, and thousands of US soldiers were at the airport as the Pentagon planned to ramp up flights of its huge C-17 transport jets to as many as two dozen a day.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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